The Murder Mystery Quilt: Sew It to Solve It

In the first grade, when I was six years old, my class did a unit on Ancient Egypt.  I was, as most children are, completely mesmerized.  The story of Howard Carter and his tenacious pursuit of discovery was–and remains, nearly 100 years later–absolutely captivating.  I adored hearing my teacher read, quietly and with appropriate pauses, of those moments when Carter at last, decades after beginning his search, approached the entrance to what he believed to be the greatest tomb in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings.  I held my breath as Carter and his workmen punched a small hole in the plaster to open up a tomb that had been sealed for millennia.  And I gasped when Carter’s financial sponsor for his quest asked if he could see anything by the light of the candle he thrust through that opening, and Carter replied, “Yes, wonderful things!”

quilted sewing machine cover

Our copy of the World Book Encyclopedia had a huge entry for Tutankhamun.  It included transparent overleaves, the kind that each had a portion of an image and when you lay them all on top of one another, you can gradually peel away layers by turning the pages.  I could sit for hours, slowly uncovering layer after layer of Tut’s sarcophagus, discovering the tiniest treasures tucked inside his burial.  It was like solving a mystery–it WAS solving a mystery.  And I was hooked.

Mystery Lover

I read a lot of mysteries.  A LOT.  And I watch ALL the detective shows.  Poirot, Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Psych, Monk, Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Raisin, Maisie Dobbs, Flavia de Luce, Temperence Brennan, Amelia Peabody–I can’t get enough of them.  I prefer the lighter mysteries, something with a sense of humor and not too much dark underbelly.  Agatha Christie even gets a little dark in her later works, to be honest–I want to escape into a puzzle and lose myself in the thrill of the discovery.

That’s probably what attracted me to archaeology to begin with.  I love the idea of a new discovery.  And meeting King Tut, the boy king who was probably murdered, just sealed the deal.  I mean, how much cooler can it get than intrigue and mystery in Ancient Egypt?  As I got older, I began to see new layers that fascinated me: how humans have really been the same throughout history, loving and hating and scheming and building; how regardless of time or place or even technology, relationships have always been the driving force behind all human endeavor (even if they were sometimes poisonous or dangerous relationships); and how the more we see people in the past, the more we can see ourselves more clearly.

That’s the part of the mysteries I watch and read that I take away with me most.  I love the chase and the discovery, but even more than that, I love the ticking inside individuals, the bits that fit together to make up the whole, and the drama of a mystery story makes that come to the fore.

People Who Sew Love to Put Pieces Together

I feel deeply connected to other people who sew, and a giant factor in that is that you all are My People.  Many of you love the thrill of discovery, you love seeing how the parts fit together to make up the whole, and lots and lots and lots of you are READERS.  Did you know that 76% of Americans have read at least one book in the past 12 months?  That seems like a high number, right?  Until you flip it around: one in four Americans didn’t read A SINGLE BOOK LAST YEAR.  And then you hear the real kicker: that’s TRIPLE the number of non-readers since 1978.  When I discovered the online sewing community and learned how very many of you love to read–and read a LOT–I was elated.  Readers love other readers, and we love sharing what we read.

And lots of people who sew love mysteries.  I guess it’s the puzzle thing again, the way we are accustomed to looking at individual pattern pieces and discovering how they fit into the greater shape of the final project.  There’s even a long-standing tradition of the Mystery Quilt, where you don’t get to see the top of the puzzle box, so to speak, as you’re constructing the blocks.  You see each block in isolation, and only over time does the greater design emerge.  Kind of like a mystery to solve in a book.

Getting the Idea

I keep a notebook of ideas every year.  I jot down brainstorms that come to me so that I can choose the best ones to develop.  At the end of the year, I move the ones I’m most attached to (but haven’t yet given life to) into the next year’s notebook.   I’ve had this pet idea for at least four years, and every year it makes the move with me, but I’ve never gotten around to bringing it to life: what if there was a mystery quilt project that was a REAL MYSTERY?  Where the puzzle to solve wasn’t just what the quilt would look like, but also an actual murder to solve–and the QUILT HELPED?

When I launched a survey a couple of months ago and asked if any of you would want to do a mystery quilt project next year (this year!!), and if any of you would be interested in a sewing book club, the response was extraordinary: more than 64% of respondents said yes to both.  Hooray!  I finally had the data I needed to feel confident bringing my Murder Mystery Quilt to life.

murder mystery quilt logo

The Murder Mystery Quilt is a monthly subscription club that reads along together and stitches up a quilt to find clues and solve the murder mystery contained in the story.  

Members receive a chapter from a mystery story each month, and a pattern for a quilt block.  The quilt block relates directly to the chapter you’ve read, and contains an additional clue (or clues!) to help unravel the plot.  There are 12 blocks, one for each month of the year, and every quilter gets one guess as to who the killer is.  All the correct guesses are put in a bucket, and a winner is drawn for a giant prize basket of quilting goodies and fabric!  There’s also a second prize for those who complete the quilt top, regardless of whether they made a correct guess, so that everyone has a chance to win–even if you feel more like a Watson than a Holmes.  (After all, Holmes was a little bit of an egomaniac who didn’t like to share credit, but it was always Watson who supplied the necessary connections to get to the solution, right?)

A year-long quilting project can seem like one more thing to keep up with.  I think the story alone keeps you motivated–like the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, this one is a serial and so you’re compelled by the characters and the plot to read anew each month.  I’ve also added a layer of extra motivation: every month, when you complete your block and share your finish to our private Facebook group or on Instagram, you get an ADDITIONAL clue via email to help you find the solution!  That’s a total of 12 extra clues that will give you a glimpse of whodunit, on top of the clues in the text and the clues in the quilt.

Along the way, you’ll receive monthly emails with encouragement and discussion, and access to our password-protected “classroom” space where you can download chapters, patterns, instructions and little extras (coloring pages! connect-the-dots!) as we go along.  Our private Facebook group gives you a chance to chat with other quilters about this or any other project, and really get connected to community in 2016.  (Pssst!  This is a great project for Sewing Buddies to do together!)

Are you intrigued?  I hope you’ll sew along with me!  This project is a dream come true for me, and I have loved, loved, loved every single second I have spent putting it together.  I can’t wait to get started.  Come hunt clues in 2016!

Join us!  We need your brainpower and we want to play with you.  Read more about the Murder Mystery Quilt here.  Registration opens next week!  Sign up early, as spots are limited.

49 Comments on “The Murder Mystery Quilt: Sew It to Solve It

  1. I am so excited about this. I’ve never made a quilt before so this will be motivation, and I _love_ murder mysteries.

    You didn’t mention Miss Fisher’s in your list – if you haven’t watched it then you definitely should!

    • Oooh, is that the Australian series? I think I started the first epi on Netflix and then got distracted, but the costumes were dreamy. Will have to go back and finish it–thanks for the reminder!

      And hooray!! I’m so glad you’re excited. This is one of those ideas that is either brilliant or ridiculous, and I am so thrilled about it that I don’t even care which one it is. So glad you’re going to solve crimes with us this year!! :) :) :)

      • Yes it is the Australian one. The costumes are divine and Phyrne’s character is cheeky and smart and and so forward-thinking. Do it!

        Can’t wait for sign up to go live.

  2. Looking forward to my first mystery quilt!

    • Hooray, hooray!! Can’t wait to have you join us! :)

  3. Having just found your wonderful blog and website today, I’ve done some poking around and cannot find how to sign up for the mystery quilt. Can you please give me some guidance? BTW.. More than 30 years ago I lived in Stone Mountain and my first two daughters were born at Northside hospital!

    • I’m so glad you found me! The Murder Mystery Quilt will open for registration next week. There’s a sign-up in my right sidebar if you’d like to get the newsletter, and then you’ll receive an email alert when it’s live! Hope that helps, but please let me know if you need more information. :)

  4. I’m looking for a way to subscribe to your blog and can’t find it. Could you please send me a link? Thanks so much!

    • Hi, Cindy! In the very top of the right sidebar, you’ll see an round orange button, which will allow you to subscribe via RSS–I use Feedly myself. Alternately, just below that you can sign up to receive the newsletter, which comes out once a week on Tuesdays. Hope that helps, but please let me know if there’s another question I can answer! :)

  5. Found your website today. This mystery quilt is fantastic! I also love reading mysteries and I’m learning to quilt. This just sounds so interesting, can’t wait till next week to find out all the details and sign up.

    • Oh, I’m so glad you like the idea!! I’ve been nursing it along for ages–I just love it, and can’t wait to share in the sleuthing. Registration starts later this week!! :) :) :)

  6. Deborah i love the idea of this Murder Mystery Quilt. We went to Murder Mystery Weekends for 6 years where the whole time, even mealtimes, involved the characters till Sunday when we learned who the murderer was. It was such a good time. Your Mystery quilt idea strikes me exactly the same way. I think it will just be a blast and you did a great job creating this. I can’t wait to sign up!

    • Oh, that sounds like so much fun!! I used to have a friend who worked at a mystery dinner theater that I think was the same idea–there were actors in the audience but you didn’t know who they were until later, and clues were dropped throughout the meal. So amazing to see how people form quick friendships with total strangers while solving the puzzle! I’m excited about the quilt working the same way, and can’t wait to play with everyone!! First chapter will be out this week, and registration opens Thurs. Hooray!!

  7. I have joined but am not sure about the how many times to guess. It says only one guess in one place and then in another guess every month?

    Patricia

    • It’s one guess total. If you guess BEFORE December, you get one entry to the drawing for each month prior to Dec that you guess correctly. So, for example, if you guess in June, and you’re right, then you get seven entries (June, July, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov + Dec = seven) into the drawing. But once you guess, you don’t get to guess again!

      Hope that makes sense–let me know if I can clarify further. And happy sleuthing! :)

  8. Hi! I’ve joined but I’ve never done a mystery quilt before (I’ve never done a quilt before!) and I was wondering if the first set of instructions will include any indication of the fabrics needed for the finished quilt or if even that is only revealed one block at a time? All the same I’m so looking forward to trying this!

    • Alisa, I too have the same questions as you about the supplies we will be needing. I am so excited!

      Sincerely,
      Amy

      • Hi, Amy! I also replied to Alisa, but wanted to update you as well: the fabric requirements list will arrive along with the first block pattern, so you’ll be able to pull your fabrics and plan ahead! Can’t wait to see what you’ll make!!

    • Hi, Alisa! Yes, you’ll get a full list of required fabrics at the beginning, since most folks prefer to have some hope that their blocks will all work together by the end. The quilt is *mostly* fat quarter friendly, plus a background fabric, in case you’re already looking at options! I’m so excited to have you as part of it!! :)

      • Thanks, Deborah! Picking fabrics is my favorite/the hardest part of a project. It’s like choosing a name for your baby. It’s soooo much fun to think about and talk about but really hard to settle on one. Okay, maybe it’s not quite the same as naming a child…anyway, really excited for a legitimate reason to fabric shop!! 😉

  9. I love mysteries & detective shows, too.

    We , my quilty friends & I, just heard about this yesterday at QuiltCon West. Sounds fun – is the book finished (but not published – we’re not trying to peek)? We’re wondering who the author might be … we all have our favorites (Walter Mosley & Ian Rankin for me, although I do wish Inspector Rebus would join AA).

    As for detective shows, I recommend Foyle’s War – set in England during WWII. DCI Foyle is too old to be in the fighting, but doing his bit at home. Really excellent.

    • Amy is right, Sara! I am writing the mystery, but not as we go–it’s already largely complete, although I confess that I find it tough not to tinker and edit as we go! Chapters arrive month by month, one at a time. You can get the first chapter here for free:
      http://whip-stitch.com/murder-mystery-quilt/

      I keep meaning to catch Foyle’s War but haven’t gotten the chance–it’s streaming on Netflix now and I’ve added it to my queue!!

      So glad you got to go to QuiltCon, hoping you’ll come play with us with the Murder Mystery Quilt this year!! :)

  10. Hmmm ….. Sara you have a good question! Is this “mystery” already in print or being written as we move forward? I was under the assumtion that Deborha was the author and it was being rolled out month by month.

  11. Pingback: The Murder Mystery Quilt ~ Fresh Lemons Modern Quilts

  12. Sounds like a fun idea – any clues tho what the fabrics might entail?

    • Hi, Michelle! I’ve used primarily solids and smaller prints, but the quilt is very flexible. Two pieces require a yard, and the others are all fat quarters, which also makes it great for using up your stash! Hope that helps! :)

  13. This sounds great!!! I’m an archaeologist by profession (currently getting my PhD) who is learning to quilt in my spare time with a similar love for murder mysteries (I usually have Murder She Wrote on as I’m piecing.) I’ve not joined a sew-along before, but this seems like the perfect opportunity! Signing up now and looking forward to it. :)

    • I’m so glad you’re going to solve crime with us!! I know you’ll love it–that Kitty Campbell really knows her botanical remains!! :)

  14. What a great idea! I found you via “Fresh Lemons Modern Quilts” and just in time by the look of things. I shall definitely be signing up. :0) xx

  15. Hi Deborah – I also found out about the mystery quilt on Fresh Lemons. Sounds fun. I was thinking of signing both my mom and myself up for the project. Can you give us any idea of the quilt ‘genre’? I’ve looked at your blog but not sure what your style is. She is an accomplished quilter and works on a little of everything. I mostly do ‘quick and easy’ type patterns (that never end up quick but are mostly easy).

    • Hi, Carie! That’s SO fun–we actually have a couple mom/daughter or sister/sister pairs this year, and I love it so much. What a great way to spend the year together! This quilt would definitely fit into the modern category, with a graphic twist. You can see the first two blocks by checking the hashtag #murdermysteryquilt on Instagram (or here:
      https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/murdermysteryquilt/ )
      to get an idea of the “feel” of the quilt. The group is so warm and welcoming and encouraging–I know you’d both feel really at home! Let me know if you have other questions and I’m happy to answer them! :)

  16. I’ve looked through the site, but can’t find out the cost. How much is the subscription? Per month?

    Kerry

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  18. Is it too late to join your murder mystery group? I was just told about it by one of your members and I’m intrigued. I read tons of mysteries and have written and published two (not murder mysteries as they are intended for middle school students.

    Thanks for considering it. If not, maybe I can get in next year!!

    • Hi, Lee Ann! It’s too late to join with the monthly subscription, but not too late if you’d like to do the one-time fee for the year. Feel free to email me directly (deborah at whipstitchfabrics.com) and I’ll get you all set up! We’d love to have you come solve crimes with us! :)

  19. Will you be doing a quilt like this for 2017? Would love to participate!

  20. Hi Deborah,

    I have registered for this years MMQ 2017. My friend asked me if I had seen any mmq from previous years so I had a bit of a hunt but could find nothing. Can you give me a heads up about where to look for previous years mmq, please.

    I’m looking forward to starting this years mmq.
    Cheers
    Stephanie

    • Hi, Stephanie! Because the quilt design is specific to the story, this year’s quilt looks different from last year’s quilt. But you can get an idea of the general look and feel of the 2017 quilt from these images:
      http://tinyurl.com/jrysa99

      Hope that helps!

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  22. Seriously considering joining your 2017 mystery and encouraging my friends here in Australia to also participate. Could you tell me more about the fabrics for 2017. It appears to be a modern quilt but would it work with reproductions? Which style of fabric would you be recommending?

    • I’ve just signed up regardless of the fabric. Sounds like a lot of fun is to be had along the way.